Author and psychiatrist, J.S. Breving stops by to chat about his debut novel, The Machinations. He opens up about what he was like growing up, how being a psychiatrist influenced his writing, why he chose to debut a novel in the Sci-Fi genre and who he would trade places with in Star Wars: Luke or Anakin Skywalker.
Annabell: Tell us a little about yourself (stuff not found within your mini-bio on your site). Feel free to divulge any strange quirks, OCD like habits, nerdy collections—we welcome all types of nerds at TeamNerd *wink*
J.S. Breving: I guess I grew up caught between two worlds: the sports world of my father and the arts world of my mother (acting in the local community theater). I tried to fit into the sports/popular crowd, but it was an unqualified failure. I played a different sport every season growing up and even played baseball in college. Nevertheless, I was always the kid at parties standing in the corner by himself. It took many, many years before I figured out that I was much happier sitting at home watching a movie or reading a book. Eventually, I quit torturing myself trying to be “cool” and accepted myself for what I was, a nerd-alien. It was quite liberating.
Annabell: You are a psychiatrist. What prompted you to into the field of psychology and what do you love most about what you do?
J.S. Breving: I was shy growing up and stayed mostly to myself. Once again I tried to fit in, but it just wasn’t happening. Being introverted in an extroverted society was difficult. I was a bit of an outcast but couldn’t figure out why. When I got older, I wanted to know why I felt the way I did: the kid at parties standing by himself in the corner just observing. Now even though we sometimes try to ignore it with technology and diversion, life boils down to human interaction. The psychology that I espouse is British object relations theory, which is all about human interaction. I guess that is what I love about psychiatry/psychology, the understanding of human interaction, and through the understanding being able to help other people.
Annabell: Break down what happens in your debut novel, Machinations. Who are the main players? What are some obstacles they will have to face? Is there romance?
J.S. Breving: There are two disparate worlds and therefore two main characters as Machinations is written in the first person. The world of Drew takes place in a rural agrarian town, Eastern, that could be the 1800’s but Eastern has unique technology that hints at something amiss. Now Drew is a curious boy by nature constantly asking questions and getting into trouble. His best friend is Anjali who lives on an adjacent farm. Drew is like Anjali-lite. She is spunky and has the potential to really stir the pot. They have a pure, platonic love between them and their questions lead them into big-time trouble as they try to find out the truth about the cloistered town of Eastern.
The other story line takes place a thousand years in the future and follows Varik Vermillion, a child prodigy astrophysicist. He is tenured and in his 20’s and is riding on a dysphoric high. He leaves academia in a dramatic meltdown steering his life towards ruin. He is a tragic character that unsettles the reader. There is romance between Varik and Marion, an environmental scientist, but the questions is can Varik pull it together to sustain a real relationship.
The crux is these two worlds are interconnected and when the earth of the future faces the threat of alien invasion, both worlds are threatened with annihilation.
Annabell: Machinations, dives into the science fiction genre. What made you decide to create a story within the sci-fi genre and how did your background in psychology manage to help inspire the characters?
J.S. Breving: It sounds trite, but the story kind of chose me. I actually wrote an unpublished novel that is semi-autobiographical before Machinations. It was very thinly veiled biography of my life. It was brutally honest and something I don’t think I’ll ever publish because it would be too painful for me and others, mainly my family.
However, with the first book out of my system, I felt freed to write a fresh novel. I didn’t necessarily have a plan to write another book, but the story kept on coming to me in dreams at night and even during the day. The story wanted to be told. In a sense I felt a little like a vessel, but don’t take me too literally on that one.
As for my psychology background, I tried to really get inside the mind of the two main characters. I think writing from the point of view of Drew and Varik forced me to put myself in their shoes and experience what they were experiencing. I kind of left my psychology background at the door and let the story unfold. My cerebral mind played more of a part in the editing process.
Annabell: Varik is a child prodigy, being accepted into college at eleven, gaining tenure at seventeen. He doesn’t exactly possess the qualities of a swoon-like hero and also acts as one of the narrators to the story. He is very much flawed and doesn’t know how to fix the messes he creates. Why did you choose to approach his character as an anti-hero? How do you relate to him and/or what he goes through within the story?
J.S. Breving: I think there is a yin and yang contrast between the two main characters. Drew is a pure untainted child who is quite likeable and a bit of a clean slate. However, Varik is Drew 15 years later if everything went wrong. The purity of Drew is a nice contrast to the conflict within Varik. There is both good and bad in Varik and being told in the first person, I hope that the reader sees the struggles unfold right before their eyes. I think it is quite unique to see a change from child to adult (even though he is about 25) in the story. Varik has a delayed entrance into adulthood because of all the pressure placed on him as a child prodigy.
As far as how Varik relates to me, let’s just say like everyone else I have both good and bad inside of me.
Annabell: Drew was your favorite character to write in Machinations and I am curious to learn as to why? I know you enjoyed portraying the innocence of his relationship with Anjali because of its purity. But why specifically did you enjoy Drew’s character so much? What connection did you feel with him that you can think readers will relate to as well?
J.S. Breving: I touched on it before when talking about Varik, but I think there is a yearning in everyone to return back to their childhood, when everything was simpler and the weight of the world was off your shoulders. In creating Drew and writing from the first person I could kind of go back in time and revisit my own childhood. It was an escape and something I needed in my life at the time.
Annabell: I read that you spent eight years working Machinations. A month to write it but eight years to edit it (six months where your lovely wife had the task of helping to edit the book after iUnverse returned it to you pointing out every flaw needing fixing). You said you had yet to learn what makes a book become popular, what exactly gives a book that spark that transcends to readers so powerfully to make them want to pass the word along to others. In now having published the book and gaining interest from the outside world, have you gotten any closer to discovering an answer?
J.S. Breving: I often think about fame and the kind of celebrisized-culture we have created in the United States. I often ask myself why did these people become famous, why not one of the other random actors/writers in NYC who is presently waiting tables and struggling.
I think that the people who become celebrities (for the most part) need to become popular. They need the fame to complete themselves, like lock and key. In other cultures where not as much importance is placed on celebrity, it is probably not the case. But I think the people that have a huge need to be filled inside of them, fill it. Now take my words with a grain of salt, because once again I am on the outside looking in, wishing I was on the inside.
But in the end, I am really no closer to the answer.
Annabell: The world within Machinations deals with not just science but also politics, to how enticing power can be and how it can make a man more ignorant than wise. Why was including the various political at games played within the story line so important to the plot? What is a lesson you hope readers come to grasp?
J.S. Breving: All in all, I try to let the characters play out their little dramas and try not to make too many of my own political leanings come to the forefront. That being said, Machinations does not depict a flattering picture of politics a thousand years from now. Not surprisingly, I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to politics, so the math is pretty straightforward. Similar to my views on celebrity, I think the people that need, really need to be powerful and in politics find ways to make it happen and its probably not even conscious. In the year three thousand, politicians are like celebrities but I don’ think it’s so different today.
The politics in the novel are integral to the story, because the political scheming is pushing the world to the brink and intimately related to the alien invasion. And in the end, it’s not about the aliens but the political machinations driving it all.
Annabell: I read the inside glimpse to the first chapter on Amazon of the book. The writing is beautifully done and wonderfully intelligent. Eight years of work has proven to be well worth it ;) Who are some writers that have inspired or influenced your style of writing, your voice as an author? What is about these authors or their work that inspired you so?
J.S. Breving: I have varied tastes. I grew up reading the Travis McGee Series by John D. MacDonald, basically because my dad read them. If you have had the pleasure of reading one these books you will definitely see a little Travis McGee in Varik. MacDonald writes from the first person and McGee is a bit of a beach bum, narcissist, part-time philosopher detective. Other influences are Steinbeck, Faulkner, Dickens, Dumas and Salinger. Some of their seminal works have heavily influenced Machinations: The Count of Monte Cristo, Great Expectations, Catcher in the Rye. The lead characters in these books can be considered conflicted at the very least and more likely akin to anti-heroes similar to Varik.
Annabell: As a child (and even as a grown up now), you were (and still are) a huge fan of Stars Wars. If you could trade places with either Luke or Anakin Skywalker, which character would you want to play and why?
J.S. Breving: I think this is a great question the more I think about it. Drew in Machinations is a little bit like Luke and Varik is like Anakin. So the question would also be would I want to be Drew or Varik. I would definitely want to be Drew/Luke, with all the possibilities in the world ahead of you. However, it might not be so bad to be Varik/Anakin after all the dust clears. But even at the end of Machinations the dust is yet to clear, because there are two more novels in the trilogy coming soon!
Annabell: Thank you to Author J.S. Breving for stopping by TeamNerd and for the wonderfully insightful interview into his debut novel, The Machinations!
About the Author: J.S. Breving was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a psychiatrist in Brooklyn, New York, who writes novels in his spare time. When he’s not workingm he enjoys married life, living in Brooklyn Heights, and watching the Xavier University Museteers play basketball.
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